In five seasons since returning to his alma mater as head coach, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a two-time All-American, four-time NBA All-Star and United States Gold Medalist during his playing days, has led the Tigers to an 110-52 record, five-straight 20-win seasons, the 2021 National Invitation Tournament championship, the 2023 AAC tournament championship and two-consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2022 and 2023.
Hardaway’s 110 wins are second-most among 14 first-time NCAA Division I head coaches hired prior to the 2018-19 season and tied for third-most among Tiger head coaches in their first five seasons. Only three of Memphis’ 16 head coaches since World War II have won 20 games in each of their first five seasons at the helm, now including Hardaway.
In his tenure, Hardaway has mentored two first-round NBA Draft picks, three American Athletic Conference Freshmen of the Year, seven all-conference selections, five all-freshman honorees and an AAC Tournament MVP. The Tigers have won eight games against ranked opponents, been ranked inside the top-10 on two occasions and twice had the nation’s number-one recruiting class.
Hardaway was introduced as University of Memphis men’s basketball coach during a March 20, 2018 press conference at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on the Park Avenue Campus. Hardaway became the school’s 19th coach and the third former Tiger player in the modern era (since World War II) to lead the program, following Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Larry Finch (1986-97).
The 2022-23 season saw the Tigers rack up their most victories in a decade, claim the program’s first AAC crown and earn a second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tourney. Memphis opened the season with a 76-67 victory at Vanderbilt, the first true road win to begin a season since 1992-93. Hardaway’s squad went 10-3 in the nonconference slate, highlighted by six wins over Power Five programs and four against SEC programs. The Tigers went to Atlanta on Dec. 10 and took down a previously unbeaten No. 11 Auburn Tiger team for the first ranked victory of the season.
After opening the AAC slate 2-2 with a pair of road defeats, the Tigers went on to win 14 of their final 17 games and finish the season 26-9 overall. Memphis earned the league’s No. 2 seed and went to Forth Worth, Texas with only one goal in mind – winning a championship. Led by a pair of All-Conference first teamers – Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams – the Tigers roared past UCF (81-76) and Tulane (94-54) to set up a rematch with No. 1 Houston in the title game. Memphis jumped on the Cougars early and led for nearly 39 minutes behind 31 points from Davis and a double-double from Williams en route to beating Houston, 75-65. It marked the first AAC crown for Memphis and it was the first time in program history the Tigers have knocked off the nation’s top-ranked team.
The Tigers earned the No. 8 seed in the East Region of NCAA Tournament, where they ultimately saw the season come to an end with a 66-65 loss to No. 9 seed and Final Four participant FAU.
All-American transfer Kendric Davis led the AAC in scoring (21.9) for a third-straight season and was also tops in assists (5.4) on his way to being named the AAC Championship MVP after scoring a conference tournament record 84 points over three games. He was a six-time AAC Player of the Week and broke the conference’s career marks for points scored (2,059), total assists (630), free throws made (558) and player of the week honors (11).
His 744 points passed Penny Hardaway (729) for the second-most scored in a single season in program history and were only 18 shy of Dajuan Wagner’s mark (762) set in 2001-02 He also set the program’s single-season record with 223 free throws made, surpassing Win Wilfong’s total (221) from 1956-57.
Williams was named All-AAC First Team, NABC All-District First Team and AAC All-Tournament Team. He won the conference player of the week three times and was the only Tiger to start all 35 games. The fifth-year senior posted a career-best 17.7 points (5th AAC), 8.2 rebounds (3rd AAC), 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 block per game while leading the league with a 53.2-percent mark from the floor. The forward led the team with 12 doubule-doubles.
The 2021-22 Tigers started the season 9-8 through mid-January but finished with wins in 13 of their last 16 games and a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013-14. Memphis’ wins down the stretch included a 69-59 win at No. 6/7 Houston on Feb. 12, which was the Tigers’ first win over a top-10 team on the road since 2005 and snapped the Cougars’ 37-game home winning streak.
The Tigers earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they were seeded ninth in the West Region and defeated eighth-seeded Boise State in the first round, 64-53. Memphis then went toe-to-toe with the nation’s top overall seed, Gonzaga, before dropping an 82-78 decision. With the win over Boise State, Hardaway became the first Memphis coach since Larry Finch to win an NCAA Tournament game in their first trip to the Big Dance.
Freshman Jalen Duren, part of the nation’s number-one recruiting class, led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding on the year and was named the AAC Freshman of the Year. Senior DeAndre Williams finished second in both categories and was on the All-AAC Second Team, while Josh Minott earned a place on the conference’s all-freshman team after his solid debut efforts.
Memphis finished the year ranked in the top-two of 12 AAC statistical categories and was ninth in the nation in blocked shots per game. The Tigers were the conference’s leading-scoring offense and also led the league in field goal percentage, blocked shots and steals.
The 2020-21 Tigers were one of the most exciting teams in the second half of the season and finished the year winning 11-of-13 games and securing a 20-8 record, including the 2021 NIT title over Mississippi State. The Tigers dispatched Dayton, Boise State, Colorado State and Mississippi State en route to the NIT championship.
Memphis’ only losses after January were to Final Four participant Houston two times by a combined five points, including one buzzer-beater. The Tigers finished 20-8 on the year after starting 6-5, and its average defeat in its eight losses was just 4.4 points, including seven by single digits and its last four by one possession.
Hardaway and company did all this with one of the nation’s youngest rosters, which, according to KenPom, has an average experience level of 1.08 years. That was the youngest among teams that advanced into the second weekend of the postseason.
The squad achieved success with its trademark defense. Memphis ended the year ranked in the top-20 in the nation in seven defensive categories (3-point field goal percentage defense, 2nd; field goal percentage defense, 5th; rebounds per game, 11th; steals per game, 12th; rebound margin, 17th; blocked shots per game, 18th; scoring defense, 19th) and had the nation’s best team in terms of KenPom’s defensive efficiency.
In his second season in 2019-20, Hardaway directed the Tigers to a 21-10 record that included wins over two nationally ranked teams. Memphis defeated No. 19 Tennessee at sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville and No. 22 Houston at FedExForum.
The continued excitement surrounding the program produced impressive attendance numbers. The Tigers averaged 16,312 fans at FedExForum during the season to rank ninth nationally in attendance. Memphis also ranked second in largest increased attendance from the previous season.
During the 2019-20 season, Hardaway helped freshman forward Precious Achiuwa develop into the AAC Player of the Year, the program’s first Player of the Year since joining the AAC in 2013. Achiuwa also earned Freshman of the Year honors to become the first Tiger to sweep both awards since Keith Lee in 1982.
During the season, the Tigers spent the first three months ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. They reached as high as No. 9 in late December following a 10-game winning streak that included the victory at No 19 Tennessee.
Most impressive was how the nation’s youngest team responded defensively. The Tigers finished first nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.1) and allowed only six of 31 opponents to shoot 43.0 percent or better.
In his first season in 2018-19, Hardaway led the Tigers to a 22-14 record and the program’s first postseason appearance in five years. Memphis reached the second round of the 2019 NIT, defeating San Diego in the opening round before falling to Creighton.
The excitement generated by Hardaway’s hiring led to a huge increase in attendance. The Tigers led the conference by averaging 15,106 fans per game, more than double the previous season’s average of 6,225.
During the season, Hardaway directed the Tigers to top-3 finishes in multiple league categories. The Tigers finished first in scoring (80.1 points per game) and assists (15.4); second in field goal percentage (45.3); and third in steals (8.0) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (32.2).
Hardaway began his first job as a college head coach after a successful run at East High School. East High won state titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. With Hardaway serving as head coach, the Mustangs defeated Whitehaven High for the 2018 Class AAA championship.
Hardaway assumed the reins of a program that went 40-26 in two seasons under Tubby Smith but did not make the postseason. At his introductory press conference, Hardaway called the job a blessing and said he was “ready to get the team back to the glory days.” Then-athletic director Tom Bowen called it “an exciting day for the city.”
In the Tigers’ rich basketball history, there are few players as well known or decorated as Hardaway. A former prep standout at Treadwell High, he averaged 36.6 points and 10.1 rebounds as a senior in 1990 and was named Parade Magazine National High School Player of the Year.
He signed with the Tigers following an intense recruiting battle and became the most electrifying player in the program’s history. His No. 25 jersey is one of nine jerseys the school has retired.
Hardaway remains the only Memphis player to have two career triple-doubles, and his 1,319 points, in only two seasons, rank 17th on the school’s career scoring list. The 729 points he scored during the 1992-93 season are the most by a junior in Tigers history.
In his two seasons, Hardaway led the team to a 43-23 record – including eight wins over nationally ranked schools — and directed the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight trip in 1992.
A two-time All-American and two-time Great Midwest Conference Player of the Year, Hardaway averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals in 1992-93. After his junior year, Hardaway declared for the NBA Draft and began a 14-year pro career with the Orlando Magic (1993-99), Phoenix Suns (1999-2004), New York Knicks (2004-06) and Miami Heat (2007).
The No. 3 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, Hardaway quickly rose to stardom with the Magic. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his first season and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team.
The following two seasons with the Magic brought more success. During the 1994-95 season, he averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists per game, started the NBA All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA First Team, while leading Orlando to the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Hardaway averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 assists in the series.
During the 1995-96 season, Hardaway averaged a career-best 21.7 points and 7.1 assists per game. He again was named All-NBA First Team and finished third in the league’s MVP voting. After the season, he played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won a gold medal in Atlanta, Ga.
Hardaway started in the NBA All-Star Game the following two seasons. During the 1997 NBA playoffs, he had the distinction of becoming the first player to score 40 or more points in back-to-back games against a Pat Riley-coached team when he had 42 and 41 in consecutive outings against the Miami Heat.
Hardaway joined the Phoenix Suns to start the 1999-2000 season and averaged 16.9 points in 60 games and 20.3 points in nine playoff games. After playing a full season for the Suns in 2001-02, he battled knee injuries throughout the remainder of his career, which included stops with the Knicks and the Heat.
Known for his support of the University through the years, Hardaway donated $1 million in 2008 for the school’s sports Hall of Fame building, which bears his name. Hardaway returned to school and graduated in May 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.